U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s planned town hall meeting in Metairie had already gone off the rails by the time he walked in the door about 25 minutes late Wednesday afternoon.
Hundreds of protesters were chanting outside the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional Library in Metairie. Inside, about 180 people — many of whom had been waiting for more than three hours with sharp questions about where Cassidy, a Republican, stood on President Donald Trump’s policies — had grown restless and taken over the podium.
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And that was only the start of an hourlong session that saw residents shouting questions, interrupting the senator and demanding answers in a rowdy environment in which Cassidy was cut off or shouted down at every turn.
“We are not your enemies, Senator. You work for us,” one audience member said. “Stand up to Trump for us.”
Click here to watch a live feed from the meeting.
The town hall was one of a wave of similar events nationwide this month that have been taken over by opponents of Trump unleashing fury on members of Congress, who are on recess.
Like many of the others, the Metairie event was less a dialogue than an outpouring of anger. Residents railed against Republicans' plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, as well as to block many Muslims from entering the country and to change the direction of public education.
The protesters and audience members resembled — at the other end of the political spectrum — the crowds of conservative Tea Party supporters who flooded town halls several years ago after President Barack Obama’s election. Many of the protesters said they were consciously emulating the Tea Party after seeing its success in garnering attention and taking power within the GOP.
One woman, in fact, held up a sign that read, “Thanks, Tea Party for the tactics! The Resistance.”
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While these kinds of confrontations have occasionally led to embarrassing moments for other elected officials in recent weeks, Cassidy — even amid the shouting — never appeared to veer far from his talking points.
“I assume they’re Americans that care about our country that feel differently about Trump than most folks in Louisiana do, but they’re coming out with their constitutionally protected right to assemble and speak. And isn’t that a good thing?” Cassidy said after the town hall.
“We anticipated it, and at some point you just started to have fun,” he said.
A Tuesday event in Denham Springs was significantly less raucous and focused more on the area's ongoing recovery from last summer’s floods.
But the meeting in Metairie left some frustrated with the lack of responses from Cassidy.
“They want to destroy Obama’s legacy, but they’re going to destroy people’s lives at the same time,” said Jenny Yanez.
Though many in the waiting crowd — which at one point swelled to more than 500 people — said they were peeved at Cassidy’s recent proposal of a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, they also sought to lay blame at Cassidy’s feet for other aspects of Trump's controversial first month in office.
“His plan is definitely not a good plan,” said retired teacher Madeline Gaillano of Thibodaux, as she stood in line in front of the library. “And we’re here to let him know that. But we’re also here to let him know that we’re going to hold him accountable for what’s going on with the Russians and Trump.”
Donald Trump’s ties to Moscow and its alleged interference in the presidential election, his choice of billionaire businesswoman Betsy DeVos as education secretary, and his defunding of Planned Parenthood’s international operations were just some of the other gripes protesters sought to take to Cassidy.
Though a few Cassidy or Trump supporters showed up to hear and applaud what Cassidy had to say, they were engulfed and outshouted by the critics. None of them apparently made it into the town hall itself.
Little of substance came through all the shouting.
Despite repeated calls for a “yes or no” answer on whether he would support repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan in place, Cassidy did not answer that question.
Medical student Stephanie Preston said she found that “disheartening,” given the improvements in quality of care she said she has seen for patients who are getting services through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Many said the lack of answers was frustrating, but for some, the show of opposition was valuable in itself.
“We had the TV cameras in there, we have a big stage, and we had a chance to make him look bad,” said Jeff Barrios, a teacher in Jefferson Parish.
Outside, some waved signs that resembled graveyard headstones, with words like “R.I.P. Queer & Trans Rights,” “RIP Clean Water” and “R.I.P. Medicaid. #CassidyKills.”
“I want Mr. Cassidy to be a patriot and not vote for his party but the people he represents,” said Marcia Curole, who lives in Metairie.
The fact that not everyone would get inside caused consternation among many who waited in the sun. And tensions rose at one point when a man in a "Make America Great Again" hat strolled up to meet a friend who had saved him a space. The man, Steve Finn of River Ridge, was one of the few visible Trump supporters in the crowd.
Finn was quickly, and ferociously, accused of cutting in line.
When the library doors swung open moments later, Finn and his friend got close but didn't make the cut.
Finn said most Trump supporters likely stayed home.
"The people who are loud and upset are who didn’t vote for him, obviously," he said. "But that's why they call it the silent majority."